Building a Future in Times of Uncertainty

Emблem transpoзиция by Peren Çakır

In June 2015, my spouse and I took a flight from Istanbul to Buenos Aires with two cats and two suitcases. The idea was to learn basic Spanish and experience life in this part of the world for six months. We are now closing in on 3 years of living in Buenos Aires. After only one week, we had already fallen in love with its great architecture, orderly neighborhoods, dramatic history, diverse artistic and cultural scene, gourmet restaurants, and green parks with happy kids and dogs. We were well aware of the dangers in some of its neighborhoods and harsh tales of robbery and crime. But those aspects did not stop us from cancelling our return trip to extend our Spanish education at Buenos Aires University while looking for freelance opportunities to keep living in the city. The rising political tension in Turkey was also another big motivation for us. However, our biggest motivation was that Buenos Aires seemed really affordable for maintaining a joyful life. Then suddenly everything changed!

In December 2015, the Argentinian people voted for reintegration into the rest of the world after years of living in a closed economy with high tariffs, import restrictions, and a lack of economic cooperation with Western economic institutions. The political coalition of “Cambiemos,” which means “Let’s Change,” presented a new dream with potential new investors that were expected to come in the years after, cheaper high-end products, lower inflation, a reduction in tariffs, an increase in job opportunities, and a government with zero corruption. After winning the election, Argentinian president Mauricio Macri opened a new communication channel with the US and EU, promising to pay Argentina’s previous debts to international funds in order to bring in new investments.

Argentina’s main source of income has never depended on the production of sophisticated technological products but on the agricultural and livestock industry. Although many Argentinians have been longing for the image of a powerful country since the turn of the 21st century, Argentina is one of those developing markets that has missed the train of technological investment over the past 40 years. The political instability, further undermined by several military coups as well as populist governments, is the main reason for its slow economic development. After the big economic crisis in 2001, the Kirchnerist government closed the doors to Western institutions and aimed to revive the Peronist economic policies of the 1950s, focusing on a self-sufficient economy and protecting lower income classes from the pitfalls of neo-liberalism through heavy subsidies. Until 2010, Argentina was one of the developing markets that benefited from the generous circulation of money around the world. However, the slowing flow of money, stories of corruption, a lack of solid investments and the globalization demanded by younger generations put an end to the Kirchnerist dream and paved the way for the rise of Cambiemos.

Although Cambiemos took office with big promises and lots of enthusiasm, what followed over the next two and a half years were shocking increases in the cost of utilities (1,000% for gas, 1,700% for electricity, 233% for transportation, and 550% for water). The cumulative inflation over the last two years was reported to be 85% while wages increased by only 15-20% annually. The government eliminated almost all subsidies to end the populist policies of the former government.  But this led to tremendous unrest, with both the opposition and even the government’s supporters objecting and causing several major protests that sometimes ended in violence.  As future projections of Macri’s dream of a new Argentina were revised from a few years to an extended 20-year period, the associated greater economic uncertainty has meant a decrease in hope for the near future. People are suffering from the consequences of low purchasing power, a rise in household expenses, a recession and job cuts.

Meanwhile, nearly 200,000 Venezuelans, mostly from the educated young middle class, have fled to Argentina to establish a more stable life thanks to residence permits facilitated by Mercosur. Many of them were lucky enough to find jobs, which led to even tougher competition in an already difficult labor market.

The people of countries that have traditionally been economically and politically unstable have a tendency to behave in a protectionist fashion during times of uncertainty. Past traumas involving frozen bank accounts during the last crisis as well as a lack of trust in the political and financial institutions have driven people to empty bank accounts, move money abroad and be less tolerant towards immigrants.

During my conversations with several supporters of Mauricio Macri, I recognized that they did not actually vote for him but against the former government. Many see this period as a transition phase, hoping for a new spark to ignite a better future. However, nowadays people often withdraw their salaries on the day they receive them due to their fear of the banking system. Several friends from the opposition claim that even the governors keep their money in offshore banks due to a lack of faith in the country’s economy. Moreover, robberies and petty crime have increased dramatically, as almost every day a new shooting or robbery is reported, especially in and around the tourist areas of the city. As a result of speculative inflation, there are big price differences for the same product even in the same neighborhood. Shopping in Buenos Aires has turned into a treasure hunt in search of the cheapest product and discount at big supermarkets.

Since our dream of finding some economic and emotional stability has been suspended, going back home and creating an alternative future has become the main topic of long conversations with my spouse and friends.  As Argentina and Turkey are in a race for the largest current account deficit, greatest devaluation of local currencies against the US Dollar, and most despair for the near future, we are stuck at the moment and confused. Our financial situation will not be able to bear any further significant price increases in the main items we need to survive.  However, we are not sure if going back home will provide us with any economic stability to save money and make investments for our future. Turkey has received 3.5 million Syrians in the last five years and the Turkish population is not happy either, in part because of the increase in competition on the labor market. Meanwhile there are not any solid investments except for the real estate market.  Increasing polarization, hostility and worsening political relations with the rest of the world do not make our homeland one of the best places to return to except for the love of family and friends.

Trying to live in a Zen state of mind, I continue to dance with my beautiful, new Venezuelan friends in my flamenco class, enjoy the great artistic and cultural scene in the city, share quality moments with my spouse and cats, while dreaming of a beautiful future at an uncertain time in an unknown place. Living with uncertainty brings great anxiety but also great flexibility and imagination.  As long as the planet survives, there will always be ways of getting by. However, the prospect of establishing any economic and emotional security will likely remain a mystery for the foreseeable future.

Peren Çakır